ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — An All-Star secret spilled sometime before the eighth inning, and Matt Moore tried to shake the message from his mind.
On Thursday afternoon, the Tampa Bay Rays left-hander stood in a room near the home dugout at Tropicana Field, grabbing a quick drink of water with left-hander David Price. As Price walked away, he gave his young teammate a nickname, one that became cause for celebration later.
“Let’s go All-Star,” Moore recalls Price saying.
Moore played it cool, as he has done so often this season. There was still a game to finish, after all, an eventual 4-3 Rays victory over the Minnesota Twins that improved Moore’s record to 13-3 in 19 starts.
In time, the honor became official. After Tampa Bay sealed its eighth consecutive victory, word came from manager Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman, the Rays’ executive vice president of baseball operations, that Moore had replaced Texas Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish on the American League roster for Tuesday’s event at Citi Field in New York.
Moore walked into Maddon’s office with a slight smirk. Moments earlier, the pitcher had cracked, “Am I getting sent down?” after learning from pitching coach Jim Hickey that Maddon wanted to meet.
Sent down? Far from it. Moore’s rise was rewarded.
“I’m really excited,” Moore said. “The best (part) about it all was after I found out, I was in Joe’s office and came out of the room, (and) I opened up the door and everyone was waiting there … just to celebrate.
“It really was pretty shocking.”
In reality, though, this development was far from stunning. Moore became the majors’ second 13-game winner, joining Detroit Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer (13-0). The days since last Saturday, following the release of the All-Star rosters, were filled with questions to Maddon about Moore’s possible addition as a replacement.
It is simple to see why. Aside from three consecutive losses to start June, Moore has been Tampa Bay’s most consistent mound presence. He has a rotation-low 3.44 ERA, and he boasts a rotation-high 108 strikeouts.
Beyond those totals, however, he has shown an ability to recover from adversity. He has proven strong in the aftermath. His 8-0 start was no mirage, despite a forgettable June slide that included three losses in five starts with a season-high 8.39 ERA.
“He was not sharp,” Maddon said of that stretch. “He was winning a lot of games based on five, five-plus innings. … Now, he’s starting to carry.
“I thought these couple times that we let him go longer, that he figured some things out. I thought that carried over to the other subsequent outings.”
It was fitting that news of Moore’s All-Star invite came on a day when he performed at a worthy level. He was sensational Thursday, retiring 11 consecutive batters to start, and he carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning until allowing a two-out double to Brian Dozier.
Tampa Bay is streaking into the All-Star break, and Moore’s honor is another sign that the Rays could have something special brewing. Remember, offseason questions focused on how Tampa Bay would replace workhorse right-hander James Shields, sent to the Kansas City Royals in a blockbuster trade.
Those concerns were real. But for the most part, in large part due to Moore, those concerns are forgotten.
Moore, in only his second full major-league season, has elevated himself in such a way that earlier unknowns are history. It seems like ages ago that Maddon defended Moore after a rocky spring, when the pitcher struggled with a flaw in his delivery.
Now, there are only reasons to look ahead.
“He certainly deserves it,” said Rays infielder Ben Zobrist, already named to the AL All-Star team. “He has been stellar for us all year long. The thing I appreciate about him, even when he hit that rough patch, he stayed the course. Instead of trying to change too much up, he believed that he was going to get out of it. He kept focusing and doing what he does.”
That focus allowed Moore to produce a start like the one he did Thursday. He described the three-hit, 10-strikeout effort in 7 1/3 innings as “smooth and efficient,” which is exactly what it was. Maddon called it the best outing of Moore’s season.
As with all discussions involving Moore, however, the most tantalizing subject is his potential. He has been labeled as someone (both from his manager and teammates) as a player still learning, still developing.
At age 24, this All-Star selection represents a milestone honor for him, certainly. But it also offers a springboard to consider what he could become, how much he could grow, how much he could mature into a central figure in the Rays’ rotation for years ahead.
“My second year in the big leagues — if you had asked me a couple of years ago, I would have just been happy to be here,” Moore said. “So for the way things are going right now, I’m ecstatic about being a part of the festivities and being at the game with the best players in the game. It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to.”
A time for the All-Star experience will come soon, but Thursday in the Rays clubhouse was an afternoon to cut loose. As water and beer flowed around Moore, Tampa Bay honored him, the secret long since spilled.